Economic devastation looms on a Good Friday like no other

MADRID (AP) — As Christians around the world observed a Good Friday like no other, at home watching livestreams instead of at church, pressure was mounting on governments to restart some industries and fend off further economic devastation from the coronavirus.

Worldwide, the death toll headed toward 100,000, with the confirmed number of infected people topping 1.6 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. Another 355,000 have recovered. The true numbers are believed to be much higher because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and cover-ups by some governments.

In addition to the medical toll, the pandemic has sideswiped economies around the world. The head of the International Monetary Fund has warned that the global economy is headed for the worst recession since the Depression. The U.N. labor organization says the equivalent of 195 million full-time jobs could be lost in the second quarter alone.

A glimmer of hope came in Europe, where the 19 European countries that use the euro currency overcame weeks of bitter divisions to agree on more than half a trillion euros, or $550 billion, of support programs to cushion the recession caused by the virus.

Mario Centeno, who heads the eurozone finance ministers’ group, called the package “totally unprecedented… Tonight Europe has shown it can deliver when the will is there.”

As weeks of lockdowns were being extended in nation after nation, governments were being pressed to consider easing restrictions on certain businesses and industries.

The Spanish government was meeting to establish a 20 billion-euro fund to help small businesses and the self-employed cope with the economic fallout of the outbreak. Officials were also discussing what comes next for 47 million Spaniards who have been quarantined for four weeks.

After a two-week freeze of all non-essential economic activity, factories and construction sites in Spain can resume work Monday, while schools, most shops and offices will remain closed.

In Italy, the industrial lobbies in regions representing 45% of the country’s GDP urged the government to relax a lockdown on all non-essential manufacturing that was imposed two weeks ago.

The lobbies in Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Piedmont and Veneto regions said if their industries don’t relaunch “in a short period, the country risks definitively shutting down its own motor, and every day that passes the risk grows not to be able to restart it.’’

Malaysia’s prime minister on Friday announced a two-week extension to the country’s lockdown until April 28 but said selected economic sectors can reopen in phases while following strict hygiene rules and travel limits.

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations endorsed several steps to fight the pandemic, including creating a COVID-19 response fund, sharing information and strategies to ease impact of a crisis that the U.N. says could shove half a billion people into dire poverty.

In a measure of just how fast the coronavirus is bringing world economies to their knees, a staggering 16.8 million Americans have lost their jobs in three weeks, with more expected to follow. The U.S. unemployment rate in April could hit 15% — a number not seen since the end of the Great Depression.

President Donald Trump brushed off fears the U.S. economy won’t quickly rebound, saying he had a “strong feeling” that “the economy is going to do very well.” The U.S. Federal Reserve announced it will provide up to $2.3 trillion in loans for households and businesses.

In Japan, the world’s third largest economy, many have criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for being too slow to action against the pandemic. In a rare rebuke, the Japanese prefecture of Aichi, home to the Toyota car company, declared its own state of emergency Friday, saying it cannot wait for the government.

“The situation is critical,” said Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura. “We decided to do everything we can to protect Aichi residents’ lives and health.”

Japan has the world’s oldest population and COVID-19 can be especially serious for the elderly.

Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda said he was worried the Japanese economy might be destroyed before the world can win the fight against the virus.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Security Council, which has been silent so far on the spread of the virus, to unite on tackling the outbreak, saying it could hinder efforts to resolve conflicts, embolden militants or even provide a blueprint for a bioterrorist attack.

The pandemic, he said, could lead to an increase in social unrest and violence that would “greatly undermine our ability to fight the disease.”

In some of the worst-hit countries, Italy and Spain, which together have more than 33,000 deaths, new infections, hospitalizations and deaths have been leveling off. But the daily tolls remain still shocking.

The 605 new deaths announced Friday in Spain were the lowest increase since March 24. The coronavirus has claimed at least 15,843 lives there and has officially infected 152,446 people, although both the rate of contagion and mortality are dropping.

Britain on Thursday recorded 881 new deaths, for close to 8,000 in all.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved out of intensive care after spending three nights there being treated for the virus. The 55-year-old remained hospitalized in London. His father, Stanley Johnson, said Friday that the prime minister needed to “rest up” and was unlikely to be back at work imminently.

A spike in deaths in Britain and New York indicated the battle is far from over.

New York state reported a record-breaking number of dead for a third straight day Thursday, 799. More than 7,000 people have died in the state, accounting for almost half the U.S. death toll of more than 16,500.

“That is so shocking and painful and breathtaking, I don’t even have the words for it,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Politicians and public health officials have warned that the hard-won gains against the pandemic must not be jeopardized by relaxing social distancing over the Easter holiday weekend.

Amid widespread restrictions on public gatherings, major religious denominations were holding virtual services on television or online. Others arranged prayer at drive-in theaters, where people can stay in their cars.

Amid the lockdown in Paris, fire-scarred Notre Dame Cathedral was coming back to life briefly. Just days before the first anniversary of the April 15, 2019, inferno that ravaged the landmark, the French capital’s archbishop was leading Good Friday celebrations in proceedings that were being broadcast live.

With the virus slicing through the ranks of medical workers, some who have recovered from the disease are now heading back to the front lines, hoping they are armed with an immunity that can help protect other colleagues and patients.

“It’s a bit like what happened in the First World War. People were wounded and came back to the battlefield,” said Dr. Philippe Montravers, head of anesthesiology and critical care at Bichat Hospital in Paris.

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